The United Kingdom’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday his decision on any role in the UK’s future 5G network for Chinese tech giant Huawei would give Britons the benefits of new technology without compromising national security.
Johnson is due to meet senior government ministers on Tuesday to decide whether to ban or restrict the use of equipment made by Huawei in 5G infrastructure development.
The United States says Huawei, the world’s largest telecoms equipment manufacturer, is a cybersecurity threat, alleging its technology could include backdoors allowing China to eavesdrop on global and domestic communications.
Huawei denies it is a vehicle for Chinese intelligence, but US officials have made thinly veiled threats that foreign allies which use its equipment could be barred from intelligence-sharing programmes.
“There is no reason why we shouldn’t have technological progress here in the UK, allow consumers, businesses in the UK to have access to fantastic technology, to fantastic communications but also protect our security interests and protect our key partnerships with other security powers around the world,” Johnson said in reply to a reporter’s question about Huawei during a visit to a London university.
Johnson said there was a way for British consumers and businesses to have access to the new technology without compromising security relationships with the US-led Five Eyes intelligence alliance.
“So, the Five Eyes security relationships we have, we have got to keep them strong and safe,” he said. “We are going to come up with a solution that enables us to achieve both those objectives.”
Reuters cited two people with knowledge of the matter last week as saying British officials had proposed granting Huawei a limited role in the UK’s 5G network.
5G is seen as one of the biggest innovations since the birth of the internet a generation ago, offering much faster data speeds.
Huawei says the US wants it blocked from the UK’s 5G network because no US company can offer the same range of 5G technology at a competitive price.
“We strongly agree with the prime minister that ‘the British public deserve to have access to the best possible technology,'” said Victor Zhang, vice president of Huawei, in a statement emailed to Al Jazeera earlier this month. “
“That is why we invested more than $15 billion last year in research and development to ensure our customers receive just that. Huawei has worked with the UK’s telecoms companies for 15 years and looks forward to supplying the best technologies that help companies like BT and Vodafone fulfil the government’s commitment to make gigabit broadband available to all.
“We are confident that the UK government will make a decision based upon evidence, as opposed to unsubstantiated allegations. Two UK parliamentary committees concluded there is no technical reason to ban us from supplying 5G equipment.”
Former Prime Minister Theresa May agreed last year – before leaving office – to block Huawei from all core parts of the 5G network, but to give it restricted access to non-core parts.
Opponents of Huawei, including the US, say the division between core and non-core is less clear when it comes to 5G networks.
The UK welcomes foreign investment but needs assurances that national security will not be compromised, Matt Warman, the minister for digital and broadband, told Parliament.
“We welcome open trade and inward investment. However, our economy can only prosper and unleash Britain’s potential when we and our international partners are assured that our critical national infrastructure remains safe and secure,” he said.
Warman said the National Security Council, the UK’s main forum for discussion of national security, would meet on Tuesday to discuss Huawei.